Throughout 2015, increasingly worrisome reports trickled out of Brazil about an obscure virus called Zika. A member of the flavivirus family, which includes dengue and West Nile, Zika was a new arrival in the Americas. Identified almost 70 years earlier in Africa, the virus was thought to cause only mild disease. In Brazil, however, it became associated with birth defects and a progressive form of paralysis known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.
As the Zika epidemic took hold, leaders at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) realized they needed to learn about the virus quickly. They started phoning select scientists, and offered funding for Zika research.
One of those researchers, Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, is known for his studies on flaviviruses. When the NIH called, the virologist already had been working on Zika for six months, collaborating with experts across the School of Medicine — in neurobiology, reproductive biology, structural biology, immunology and other fields — to determine what damage the virus could do and what could be done to stop it.
Less than a year later, the School of Medicine is one of the hotspots of Zika research.